My predictions for the MMP review proposal paper
Apart from the thresholds, the MMP review will probably propose sticking to the status quo.
Submissions closed last week and the Electoral Commission’s now busy digesting them and writing its own proposal paper to release in August. I haven’t perused the MMP submissions in detail, though I’ve read a few of them and a few “summaries” and I’ve submitted my own. But here’s my guess for what will come out of the Electoral Commission:
I think the thresholds have generated the most public discussion. While opinions on the threshold vary wildly, with abolishing, reducing, retaining and increasing all having advocates, I think more people want to lower (or abolish) it than raise it. There are indeed strong arguments for lowering it. But I suspect the Commission (contrary to my pleas) will still be inclined to cite government stability and extremist parties as reasons not to push it too low. I predict that they’ll pick a four per cent threshold as the compromise, the same as was recommended by the 1986 Royal Commission.
What’s more predictable, though, is that the one-electorate threshold is likely to go. Public anger over the “electorate lifeboat” has been pretty clear, with only a minority (including the National Party) supporting its retention. Also, the 1986 Royal Commission didn’t really elaborate on why the electorate seat threshold was necessary, leaving only reasons given by a minority of submitters to retain it.
By-election candidates, dual candidacy and party list order
Opinion is relatively divided on these issues, though I think most pro-MMP advocates support the status quo on all these matters. There hasn’t been any real experience that the 1986 Royal Commission got their analysis wrong on these, though, so I predict that the paper won’t be recommend any changes.
The Electoral Commission listed three possible alternatives for overhang. The “additional balance” seats idea won’t get anywhere—there is enough opposition as it is to increasing the size of Parliament. Some submitters prefer to reduce the number of list seats so that the total is always 120. This has a very small negative effect on proportionality, so for this to be proposed, the Commission would have to be satisfied that there is a real problem with having a few extra MPs. I don’t think they’ll buy this.
The only other possibility is if the Commission likes a proposal that isn’t one of those three alternatives. But submitters who did make any such suggestion (like myself) are few and far in between, and realistically any of these suggestions would be small technicalities. So it’s most likely that the status quo will come through here too.
Ratio of electorate to list seats
A number of submitters propose fixing the number of electorate seats to avoid a high risk of overhang. But the Department of Statistics’ projections in 2000 were that proportionality won’t be affected until at least 2051. So the only way for the Commission to accept a need for change is if they’re satisfied that we should be fixing this now, before we get there. This is unlikely. I doubt we’ll be seeing a proposed change here.
So on the whole, I’m picking a fairly unexciting set of proposals in the Electoral Commission’s paper in August. That said, the thresholds have the biggest impact of the issues included in the review—particularly abolishing the electorate seat threshold. If this happens, and if it survives Parliament, there could well be a change in the dynamic of future elections.